Plus, no matter how a team looks so far, there's at least one player on each roster who needs to step up; we identify one for all 32 clubs here.
How we rank: A panel of ESPN hockey commentators, analysts, reporters and editors rates teams against one another -- taking into account game results, injuries and upcoming schedule -- and those results are tabulated to produce the list featured here.
Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to last week's rankings, published on Nov. 24. Points percentages are through Tuesday's games.
Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: 0.738
Upcoming schedule: vs. OTT (Dec. 2), vs. BUF (Dec. 4), @ WPG (Dec. 7)
Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The Hurricanes haven't seen the best of Kotkaniemi. Yes, the center matched last season's goal total (5) in his first 20 games this season, but he is only averaging about 12 minutes of ice time per game and has taken his time getting up to speed in Rod Brind'amour's world. Carolina has also been red-hot out of the gate, shielding Kotkaniemi as he finds his way. Now is the time for his personal storm surge.
Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: 0.750
Upcoming schedule: vs. BUF (Dec. 2), vs. STL (Dec. 4), @ STL (Dec. 7)
Spencer Knight. The Panthers truly haven't had many passengers this season; everyone's giving a steady effort. That includes Knight -- until he hit some recent speed bumps. It's not unusual for a young goalie to slip, and in Knight's past five appearances, he is 1-3-0 with an .882 save percentage and 3.63 goals-against average. Knight's goalie partner Sergei Bobrovsky has dealt with injuries this season, and Knight has been relied on maybe more because of it. Florida can't afford to see Knight lose confidence.
Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: 0.717
Upcoming schedule: vs. CHI (Dec. 2), vs. CBJ (Dec. 4), vs. ANA (Dec. 6)
Daniel Sprong. Last season was the best statistical campaign of Sprong's career (13 goals and 20 points in 42 games). This season has been a different story. Sprong has produced just three goals and six points in 20 games for a Capitals team that could use more depth scoring. Sprong was a healthy scratch last week, after collecting just three points in 11 games. To play a more regular role for Washington, Sprong has major ground to make up.
Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: 0.717
Upcoming schedule: vs. COL (Dec. 1), @ MIN (Dec. 4), @ WPG (Dec. 5), vs. CBJ (Dec. 7)
Justin Holl. Holl had a well-deserved coming-out party last season. He has remained on Toronto's second pairing with Jake Muzzin this season, but the results have dipped. Holl has been a healthy scratch several times, has remained without a point through 17 games (despite averaging over 20 minutes of ice time) and has struggled defending in transition. The more these Leafs heat up, the more obvious it is they need Holl to step up.
Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: 0.750
Upcoming schedule: vs. PIT (Dec. 1), @ SEA (Dec. 3), vs. LA (Dec. 5), vs. MIN (Dec. 7)
Kailer Yamamoto. Yamamoto has been riding shotgun with Leon Draisaitl on Edmonton's second line ... so why only five points in Yamamoto's first 20 games? The lack of production has been a theme for Yamamoto, especially when he was pointless through the Oilers' first seven games. Things haven't picked up a whole lot since, even while Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have been thriving on that second unit. Yamamoto would like to join them.
Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: 0.705
Upcoming schedule: @ LA (Dec. 2), @ ANA (Dec. 3), @ VGK (Dec. 5), @ SJ (Dec. 7)
Sean Monahan. While Andrew Mangiapane and Johnny Gaudreau andJacob Markstrom(and on and on) are playing so well in Calgary, Monahan has faded into the background. His scoring has been streaky -- just two goals and 10 points through 22 games -- plus Monahan has been below average in the faceoff dot (49%) and has a team-low minus-six rating. It's puzzling, and there is plenty for Monahan to improve.
Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: 0.705
Upcoming schedule: vs. NJ (Dec. 2), vs. TOR (Dec. 4), @ EDM (Dec. 7)
Jordan Greenway. The Wild are another team that's had even contributions throughout the lineup. Greenway is someone from whom they could utilize more consistency, especially in how he uses his 6-foot-6 frame to advantage. That's an area where Greenway can always have an impact, even when he isn't adding much offensively (which, with only three assists over 17 games, he hasn't been).
Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: 0.667
Upcoming schedule: vs. STL (Dec. 2), @ BOS (Dec. 4), @ PHI (Dec. 5), @ MTL (Dec. 7)
Corey Perry. We'll call this a "keep stepping up" designation for Perry. He has found a groove lately after a nine-game point drought to start the season. Perry is a 36-year-old veteran, but injuries to Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point require more from everyone offensively, and Perry is no exception. Five points in 20 games -- with four of those coming over consecutive tilts in late November -- gives him a lot on which to build.
Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: 0.639
Upcoming schedule: @ TOR (Dec. 1), @ MTL (Dec. 2), @ OTT (Dec. 4), @ PHI (Dec. 6)
Darcy Kuemper. The Avalanche have been rolling thanks to star turns up front (looking at you, Nazem Kadri). Goaltender Kuemper hasn't been keeping up. He recorded nine wins in his first 15 starts but produced average stats (.903 save percentage, 2.84 goals-against average) in that stretch, and he was aided by Colorado's offensive attack. That red-hot scoring run won't last forever, and Kuemper needs to be there with more support when it inevitably evens out.
10. New York Rangers
Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: 0.725
Upcoming schedule: vs. PHI (Dec. 1), vs. SJ (Dec. 3), vs. CHI (Dec. 4), @ CHI (Dec. 7)
Alexis Lafreniere. The dreaded sophomore slump has set in hard for the first overall pick of the 2020 draft. Through the Rangers' first 20 games, Lafreniere managed one goal and six points, while his ice time declined to about 11 minutes per game. New York has been getting contributions offensively elsewhere to help in their strong start, so there's no question Lafreniere is lagging well behind his teammates -- and individual expectations.
11. Winnipeg Jets
Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: 0.545
Upcoming schedule: vs. NJ (Dec. 3), vs. TOR (Dec. 5), vs. CAR (Dec. 7)
Blake Wheeler. Wheeler has been in a funk. The Jets captain hadn't registered a goal through 17 games, and he has only seven assists to show despite top minutes. Coach Paul Maurice recently reunited Wheeler with Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor, which could give Wheeler a spark. Certainly, the Jets could stand taking some pressure off Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois, who have had tremendous starts to the campaign.
12. Anaheim Ducks
Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: 0.587
Upcoming schedule: vs. VGK (Dec. 1), vs. CGY (Dec. 3), @ WSH (Dec. 6), @ BUF (Dec. 7)
Jakob Silfverberg. The Ducks could use more from Silfverberg. The 31-year-old wing has been a perennial 20-goal scorer (except in the nightmare 2020-21 season for Anaheim), but he has been off that pace this season. Silfverberg did miss time due to COVID-19, a potential factor in his grabbing just one goal and nine points through 16 games. Anaheim can't wait much longer for Silfverberg to rebound, though.
Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: 0.571
Upcoming schedule: @ ANA (Dec. 1), @ ARI (Dec. 3), vs. CGY (Dec. 5)
Mattias Janmark. Janmark hasn't been the difference-marker Vegas needed amid all of its early-season injuries. He is certainly capable of contributing more than the one goal and four points he's managed through 16 games. Janmark has seen his ice time suffer accordingly, as coach Peter DeBoer is perhaps sending a message about expectations.
14. St. Louis Blues
Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: 0.614
Upcoming schedule: @ TB (Dec. 2), @ FLA (Dec. 4), vs. FLA (Dec. 7)
Colton Parayko. Parayko led the Blues with 16 giveaways through 21 games. That helps sum up some of his struggles this season. The blueliner has shown uncharacteristically poor puck management, and St. Louis relies on Parayko to be more responsible. His stats across the board have suffered (nine points and a minus-three rating through 21 tilts), and the Blues' overall defensive play has slid too.
Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: 0.600
Upcoming schedule: @ DAL (Dec. 2), @ WSH (Dec. 4), vs. SJ (Dec. 5), @ TOR (Dec. 7)
Jack Roslovic. Roslovic has worked to put a sluggish start behind him, and he isn't done yet. There's more depth to Roslovic's game, and it's slowly emerging, with three goals and eight points through 19 games. But Roslovic registered only 25 shots on net in that span, an area he could definitely elevate to make himself more of a threat.
16. Boston Bruins
Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: 0.579
Upcoming schedule: @ NSH (Dec. 2), vs. TB (Dec. 4)
Taylor Hall. Boston has a few players fighting to get on track. Hall is right up there. He has lacked consistency through 18 games, punctuated by multiple stretches without a point. Hall's five goals and 10 points in that span is mediocre for someone averaging more than 15 minutes per game (and given his skill level). Boston knows what he's capable of; they just need a whole lot more of it.
Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: 0.568
Upcoming schedule: @ EDM (Dec. 1), @ VAN (Dec. 4), @ SEA (Dec. 6)
Brian Dumoulin. Dumoulin had his season interrupted by COVID-19, like many of his teammates. Now that he is back, he needs to step up. Dumoulin has been too erratic at times in the defensive zone, and his two assists in 16 games feels underwhelming. There's more there that Pittsburgh needs from one of its most important defenders.
Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: 0.550
Upcoming schedule: @ MIN (Dec. 2), @ WPG (Dec. 3), vs. OTT (Dec. 6)
Nico Hischier. How do the Devils get Hischier going? New Jersey's captain scored just two goals in his first 19 games, and only six of his nine total points came at even strength. Hischier's advanced stats have been fine, but logging almost 20 minutes per game should generate more on the scoresheet from a player of his caliber.
19. Dallas Stars
Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: 0.600
Upcoming schedule: vs. CBJ (Dec. 2), vs. ARI (Dec. 6)
Tyler Seguin. To be fair, Seguin is coming off major surgeries to his hips. Recovering from that type of trauma is difficult. But Dallas also wants to see its star shine again. Seguin has been streaky this season in collecting five goals and nine points through 19 games, and he has endured a few multigame droughts. There's plenty of time for Seguin to find his form.
20. San Jose Sharks
Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: 0.568
Upcoming schedule: @ NYI (Dec. 2), @ NYR (Dec. 3), @ CBJ (Dec. 5), vs. CGY (Dec. 7)
Nick Bonino. It took Bonino 18 games to score his first point of the season. He had two through 21 tilts, a strangely low total given that he is playing north of 16 minutes per game. He isn't shooting the puck a whole lot either (33 on goal for the season), and San Jose can use all the offense it can get. If Bonino is going to be logging decent minutes, the Sharks will need more consistent output to match.
Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: 0.568
Upcoming schedule: vs. BOS (Dec. 2), vs. MTL (Dec. 4), @ DET (Dec. 7)
Mattias Ekholm. The Predators hold Ekholm to a high standard, hence the four-year, $25 million extension he signed in October. That deal doesn't kick in until next season, giving Ekholm time to start playing like himself again. He has been average so far defensively, registering 13 giveaways and the worst plus-minus among Nashville blueliners (minus-six) through 21 games. And up front, Ekholm has only tossed in three assists. The Predators are used to more impact.
Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: 0.524
Upcoming schedule: vs. CGY (Dec. 2), @ EDM (Dec. 5), @ VAN (Dec. 6)
Viktor Arvidsson. Arvidsson has been finding his game as of late. Los Angeles can only hope that process continues. Arvidsson wasn't producing much (five points in his first 11 games) and missed a couple of weeks due to COVID-19. But like others who have dealt with setback, Arvidsson can strive to make up for lost time. A recent three-point stretch over two games was his best of the season, and it's something on which to build.
Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: 0.500
Upcoming schedule: @ NYR (Dec. 1), vs. TB (Dec. 5), vs. COL (Dec. 6)
Cam Atkinson. Momentum is a funny thing. Atkinson arrived in Philadelphia to score six goals in his first five games. He scored one goal and added three assists in his next 15. That's been hard on the Flyers, who have been shut out three times in the past month and have scored more than two goals in a game only three times through that stretch. Philadelphia wanted Atkinson for a reason, and he has to show it again.
Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: 0.543
Upcoming schedule: vs. SEA (Dec. 1), vs. NYI (Dec. 4), vs. NSH (Dec. 7)
Nick Leddy. The Red Wings have leaned on their young guns, but veterans like Leddy can pitch in more. The 12th-year blueliner hasn't always asserted himself this season, and it has shown in his seven assists and minus-seven rating through 22 games. And his overall possession numbers (currently on the wrong side of 50%) could be improved, as well. With a few adjustments, Leddy can be a stabilizing force on Detroit's back end.
25. Buffalo Sabres
Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: 0.432
Upcoming schedule: @ FLA (Dec. 2), @ CAR (Dec. 4), vs. ANA (Dec. 7)
Aaron Dell. The Sabres really miss Craig Anderson. But the veteran goaltender is still week to week with an injury, so the play of Dell backing up Dustin Tokarski has come under (justifiable) scrutiny. Dell is 0-4-0, with an .862 save percentage and 4.56 goals-against average. Tokarski is doing his best filling Anderson's shoes, but Dell isn't helping carry the load at all for Buffalo.
Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: 0.381
Upcoming schedule: @ WSH (Dec. 2), @ NYR (Dec. 4), @ NYI (Dec. 5), vs. NYR (Dec. 7)
Dominik Kubalik. Kubalik had a strong showing for the Blackhawks last season. He is a long way from that now. The winger sputtered after a decent start, grabbing just three assists through 12 games in November and collecting only seven on the season. Chicago has looked better recently, but Kubalik is still hanging back.
Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: 0.348
Upcoming schedule: @ OTT (Dec. 1), vs. PIT (Dec. 4), vs. LA (Dec. 6)
Elias Pettersson. Pettersson has faced his share of criticism for a brutal start in Vancouver. The Canucks star center generated just four goals and 11 points (seven on the power play) through 22 games. It's been a surprising lack of production by the Swedish player, who previously averaged around a point-per-game pace to earn a three-year, $22 million extension from Vancouver in October. It's about time he lived up to that again.
28. Seattle Kraken
Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: 0.386
Upcoming schedule: @ DET (Dec. 1), vs. EDM (Dec. 3), vs. PIT (Dec. 6)
Philipp Grubauer. It's easy to forget that Grubauer was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season. He hasn't played anywhere close to that level yet in Seattle. Grubauer was 6-9-1 in his first 17 games, with an .890 save percentage and 3.03 goals-against average. His fellow Kraken goaltenders haven't been great, either; but Grubauer, especially, has more to give.
Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: 0.353
Upcoming schedule: vs. SJ (Dec. 2), @ DET (Dec. 4), vs. CHI (Dec. 5), @ OTT (Dec. 7)
Mathew Barzal. In a rough season for the Islanders, Barzal hasn't looked his best. Whether it's the more defensive role with which he has been saddled or just all the changes to New York's lineup, Barzal's production hasn't been there early. He tallied four goals and eight points through 17 games and was a minus-eight (worst among Islanders' forwards). New York has been one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league this season, and a boost from Barzal would go a long way.
30. Ottawa Senators
Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: 0.237
Upcoming schedule: vs. VAN (Dec. 1), @ CAR (Dec. 2), vs. COL (Dec. 4), @ NJ (Dec. 6), vs. NYI (Dec. 7)
Tim Stutzle. Stutzle needs some traction. He has recently moved to center, and coach D.J. Smith is clearly trying to find the right combination of players to support Stutzle getting back to his greatest self. Through his first 19 games, Stutzle was minus-10 with one goal and eight assists. It's a lot less than Ottawa was expecting out of him following a strong, 29-point rookie season.
Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: 0.292
Upcoming schedule: vs. COL (Dec. 2), @ NSH (Dec. 4), vs. TB (Dec. 7)
Jeff Petry. It's been a rough start for Petry. Montreal's top defenseman had just two assists and a minus-four rating through 24 games, and he simply hasn't been executing at a high enough level. Maybe it's the lack of Petry having his usual partner Joel Edmundson, who is injured. Maybe it's Petry's age (33) starting to catch up to him. His advanced stats haven't been glaringly awful, but Petry also isn't the difference-maker Montreal needs.
32. Arizona Coyotes
Previous ranking: 32
Points percentage: 0.261
Upcoming schedule: vs. VGK (Dec. 3), @ DAL (Dec. 6)
Jakob Chychrun. Chychrun was supposed to be the best part of a bad Arizona team. He's not. Chychrun had six points in 22 games, a minus-24 rating and a 2.8 shooting percentage. He still eats up more than 25 minutes of ice time per game for the Coyotes, but after last season's 18-goal breakout campaign, the expectation was for Chychrun to step it up further on the Coyotes' back end. They're still waiting.
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